Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Winning of the West, Volume One by Theodore Roosevelt

Part 2 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

grapes abounded, and let the bears dwell there unmolested, except at
certain seasons, when they were killed in large numbers. However, cattle
were found to be more profitable than bears, and the "beloved bear
grounds" were by degrees changed into stock ranges.[15]

The Creeks had developed a very curious semi-civilization of their own.
They lived in many towns, of which the larger, or old towns, bore rule
over the smaller,[16] and alone sent representatives to the general
councils. Many of these were as large as any in the back counties of the
colonies;[17] but they were shifted from time to time, as the game was
totally killed off and the land exhausted by the crops.[18] The soil
then became covered by a growth of pines, and a so-called "old field"
was formed. This method of cultivation was, after all, much like that of
the southern whites, and the "old fields," or abandoned plantations
grown up with pines, were common in the colonies.

Many of the chiefs owned droves of horses and horned cattle, sometimes
as many as five hundred head,[19] besides hogs and poultry; and some of
them, in addition, had negro slaves. But the tillage of the land was
accomplished by communal labor; and, indeed, the government, as well as
the system of life, was in many respects a singular compound of
communism and extreme individualism. The fields of rice, corn, tobacco,
beans, and potatoes were sometimes rudely fenced in with split hickory
poles, and were sometimes left unfenced, with huts or high scaffolds,
where watchers kept guard. They were planted when the wild fruit was so
ripe as to draw off the birds, and while ripening the swine were kept
penned up and the horses were tethered with tough bark ropes. Pumpkins,
melons, marsh-mallows, and sunflowers were often grown between the rows
of corn. The planting was done on a given day, the whole town being
summoned; no man was excepted or was allowed to go out hunting. The
under-headman supervised the work.[20]

For food they used all these vegetables, as well as beef and pork, and
venison stewed in bear's oil; they had hominy and corn-cakes, and a cool
drink made from honey and water,[21] besides another made from fermented
corn, which tasted much like cider.[22] They sifted their flour in
wicker-work sieves, and baked the bread in kettles or on broad, thin
stones. Moreover, they gathered the wild fruits, strawberries, grapes,
and plums, in their season, and out of the hickory-nuts they made a
thick, oily paste, called the hickory milk.

Each town was built round a square, in which the old men lounged all day
long, gossiping and wrangling. Fronting the square, and surrounding it,
were the four long, low communal houses, eight feet high, sixteen feet
deep, and forty to sixty in length. They were wooden frames, supported
on pine posts, with roof-tree and rafters of hickory. Their fronts were
open piazzas, their sides were lathed and plastered, sometimes with
white marl, sometimes with reddish clay, and they had plank doors and
were roofed neatly with cypress bark or clapboards. The eave boards were
of soft poplar. The barrier towns, near white or Indian enemies, had log
houses, with portholes cut in the walls.

The communal houses were each divided into three rooms. The House of
the Micos, or Chiefs and Headmen, was painted red and fronted the
rising sun; it was highest in rank. The Houses of the Warriors and the
Beloved Men--this last being painted white--fronted south and north
respectively, while the House of the Young People stood opposite that
of the Micos. Each room was divided into two terraces; the one in
front being covered with red mats, while that in the rear, a kind of
raised dais or great couch, was strewn with skins. They contained
stools hewed out of poplar logs, and chests made of clapboards sewed
together with buffalo thongs.[23]

The rotunda or council-house stood near the square on the highest spot
in the village. It was round, and fifty or sixty feet across, with a
high peaked roof; the rafters were fastened with splints and covered
with bark. A raised dais ran around the wall, strewed with mats and
skins. Sometimes in the larger council-houses there were painted
eagles, carved out of poplar wood, placed close to the red and white
seats where the chiefs and warriors sat; or in front of the broad dais
were great images of the full and the half moon, colored white or
black; or rudely carved and painted figures of the panther, and of men
with buffalo horns. The tribes held in reverence both the panther and
the rattlesnake.

The corn-cribs, fowl-houses, and hot-houses or dugouts for winter use
were clustered near the other cabins.

Although in tillage they used only the hoe, they had made much progress
in some useful arts. They spun the coarse wool of the buffalo into
blankets, which they trimmed with beads. They wove the wild hemp in
frames and shuttles. They made their own saddles. They made beautiful
baskets of fine cane splints, and very handsome blankets of turkey
feathers; while out of glazed clay they manufactured bowls, pitchers,
platters, and other pottery.

In summer they wore buckskin shirts and breech-clouts; in winter they
were clad in the fur of the bear and wolf or of the shaggy buffalo.
They had moccasins of elk or buffalo hide, and high thigh-boots of
thin deer-skin, ornamented with fawns' trotters, or turkey spurs that
tinkled as they walked. In their hair they braided eagle plumes, hawk
wings, or the brilliant plumage of the tanager and redbird. Trousers
or breeches of any sort they despised as marks of effeminacy.

Vermilion was their war emblem; white was only worn at the time of the
Green-Corn Dance. In each town stood the war pole or painted post, a
small peeled tree-trunk colored red. Some of their villages were
called white or peace towns; others red or bloody towns. The white
towns were sacred to peace; no blood could be spilt within their
borders. They were towns of refuge, where not even an enemy taken in
war could be slain; and a murderer who fled thither was safe from
vengeance. The captives were tortured to death in the red towns, and
it was in these that the chiefs and warriors gathered when they were
planning or preparing for war.

They held great marriage-feasts; the dead were buried with the goods
they had owned in their lifetime.

Every night all the people of a town gathered in the council-house to
dance and sing and talk. Besides this, they held there on stated
occasions the ceremonial dances; such were the dances of war and of
triumph, when the warriors, painted red and black, returned, carrying
the scalps of their slain foes on branches of evergreen pine, while
they chanted the sonorous song of victory; and such was the Dance of
the Serpent, the dance of lawless love, where the women and young
girls were allowed to do whatsoever they listed.

Once a year, when the fruits ripened, they held the Green-Corn Dance, a
religious festival that lasted eight days in the larger towns and four
in the smaller. Then they fasted and feasted alternately. They drank out
of conch-shells the Black Drink, a bitter beverage brewed from the
crushed leaves of a small shrub. On the third day the high-priest or
fire-maker, the man who sat in the white seat, clad in snowy tunic and
moccasins, kindled the holy fire, fanning it into flames with the
unsullied wing of a swan, and burning therein offerings of the
first-fruits of the year. Dance followed dance. The beloved men and
beloved women, the priest and priestesses, danced in three rings,
singing the solemn song of which the words were never uttered at any
other time; and at the end the warriors, in their wild war-gear, with
white-plume headdresses, took part, and also the women and girls, decked
in their best, with ear-rings and armlets, and terrapin shells filled
with pebbles fastened to the outside of their legs. They kept time with
foot and voice; the men in deep tones, with short accents, the women in
a shrill falsetto; while the clay drums, with heads of taut deer-hide,
were beaten, the whistles blown, and the gourds and calabashes rattled,
until the air resounded with the deafening noise.[24]

Though they sometimes burnt their prisoners or violated captive women,
they generally were more merciful than the northern tribes.[25]

But their political and military systems could not compare with those of
the Algonquins, still less with those of the Iroquois. Their confederacy
was of the loosest kind. There was no central authority. Every town
acted just as it pleased, making war or peace with the other towns, or
with whites, Choctaws, or Cherokees. In each there was a nominal head
for peace and war, the high chief and the head warrior; the former was
supposed to be supreme, and was elected for life from some one powerful
family--as, for instance, the families having for their totems the wind
or the eagle. But these chiefs had little control, and could not do much
more than influence or advise their subjects; they were dependent on the
will of the majority. Each town was a little hotbed of party spirit; the
inhabitants divided on almost every question. If the head-chief was for
peace, but the war-chief nevertheless went on the war-path, there was no
way of restraining him. It was said that never, in the memory of the
oldest inhabitant, had half the nation "taken the war talk" at the same
time.[26] As a consequence, war parties of Creeks were generally merely
small bands of marauders, in search of scalps and plunder. In proportion
to its numbers, the nation never, until 1813, undertook such formidable
military enterprises as were undertaken by the Wyandots, Shawnees, and
Delawares; and, though very formidable individual fighters, even in this
respect it may be questioned if the Creeks equalled the prowess of their
northern kinsmen.

Yet when the Revolutionary war broke out the Creeks were under a
chieftain whose consummate craft and utterly selfish but cool and
masterly diplomacy enabled them for a generation to hold their own
better than any other native race against the restless Americans. This
was the half-breed Alexander McGillivray, perhaps the most gifted man
who was ever born on the soil of Alabama.[27]

His father was a Scotch trader, Lachlan McGillivray by name, who came
when a boy to Charleston, then the head-quarters of the commerce
carried on by the British with the southern Indians. On visiting the
traders' quarter of the town, the young Scot was strongly attracted by
the sight of the weather-beaten packers, with their gaudy, half-Indian
finery, their hundreds of pack-horses, their curious pack-saddles, and
their bales of merchandise. Taking service with them, he was soon
helping to drive a pack-train along one of the narrow trails that
crossed the lonely pine wilderness. To strong, coarse spirits, that
were both shrewd and daring, and willing to balance the great risks
incident to their mode of life against its great gains, the business
was most alluring. Young Lachlan rose rapidly, and soon became one of
the richest and most influential traders in the Creek country.

Like most traders, he married into the tribe, wooing and wedding, at the
Hickory Ground, beside the Coosa River, a beautiful half-breed girl,
Sehoy Marchand, whose father had been a French officer, and whose mother
belonged to the powerful Creek family of the Wind. There were born to
them two daughters and one son, Alexander. All the traders, though
facing danger at every moment, from the fickle and jealous temper of the
savages, wielded immense influence over them, and none more than the
elder McGillivray, a far-sighted, unscrupulous Scotchman, who sided
alternately with the French and English interests, as best suited his
own policy and fortunes.

His son was felt by the Creeks to be one of themselves. He was born
about 1746, at Little Tallasee, on the banks of the clear-flowing Coosa,
where he lived till he was fourteen years old, playing, fishing,
hunting, and bathing with the other Indian boys, and listening to the
tales of the old chiefs and warriors. He was then taken to Charleston,
where he was well educated, being taught Greek and Latin, as well as
English history and literature. Tall, dark, slender, with commanding
figure and immovable face, of cool, crafty temper, with great ambition
and a keen intellect, he felt himself called to play no common part. He
disliked trade, and at the first opportunity returned to his Indian
home. He had neither the moral nor the physical gifts requisite for a
warrior; but he was a consummate diplomat, a born leader, and perhaps
the only man who could have used aright such a rope of sand as was the
Creek confederacy.

The Creeks claimed him as of their own blood, and instinctively felt
that he was their only possible ruler. He was forthwith chosen to be
their head chief. From that time on he remained among them, at one or
the other of his plantations, his largest and his real home being at
Little Tallasee, where he lived in barbaric comfort, in a great roomy
log-house with a stone chimney, surrounded by the cabins of his sixty
negro slaves. He was supported by many able warriors, both of the half
and the full blood. One of them is worthy of passing mention. This was a
young French adventurer, Milfort, who in 1776 journeyed through the
insurgent colonies and became an adopted son of the Creek nation. He
first met McGillivray, then in his early manhood, at the town of Coweta,
the great war-town on the Chattahoochee, where the half-breed chief,
seated on a bear-skin in the council-house, surrounded by his wise men
and warriors, was planning to give aid to the British. Afterwards he
married one of McGillivray's sisters, whom he met at a great dance--a
pretty girl, clad in a short silk petticoat, her chemise of fine linen
clasped with silver, her ear-rings and bracelets of the same metal, and
with bright-colored ribbons in her hair.[28]

The task set to the son of Sehoy was one of incredible difficulty, for
he was head of a loose array of towns and tribes from whom no man could
get perfect, and none but himself even imperfect, obedience. The nation
could not stop a town from going to war, nor, in turn, could a town stop
its own young men from committing ravages. Thus the whites were always
being provoked, and the frontiersmen were molested as often when they
were quiet and peaceful as when they were encroaching on Indian land.
The Creeks owed the land which they possessed to murder and rapine; they
mercilessly destroyed all weaker communities, red or white; they had no
idea of showing justice or generosity towards their fellows who lacked
their strength, and now the measure they had meted so often to others
was at last to be meted to them. If the whites treated them well, it was
set down to weakness. It was utterly impossible to restrain the young
men from murdering and plundering, either the neighboring Indians or the
white settlements. Their one ideal of glory was to get scalps, and these
the young braves were sure to seek, no matter how much the older and
cooler men might try to prevent them. Whether war was declared or not,
made no difference. At one time the English exerted themselves
successfully to bring about a peace between the Creeks and Cherokees. At
its conclusion a Creek chief taunted the mediators as follows: "You have
sweated yourselves poor in our smoky houses to make peace between us and
the Cherokees, and thereby enable our young people to give you in a
short time a far worse sweat than you have yet had."[29] The result
justified his predictions; the young men, having no other foe, at once
took to ravaging the settlements. It soon became evident that it was
hopeless to expect the Creeks to behave well to the whites merely
because they were themselves well treated, and from that time on the
English fomented, instead of striving to put a stop to, their quarrels
with the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

The record of our dealings with them must in many places be unpleasant
reading to us, for it shows grave wrong-doing on our part; yet the
Creeks themselves lacked only the power, but not the will, to treat us
worse than we treated them, and the darkest pages of their history
recite the wrongs that we ourselves suffered at their hands.

1. Letter of Commissioners Hawkins, Pickens, Martin, and McIntosh, to
the President of the Continental Congress, Dec. 2, 1785. (Given in
Senate documents, 33d Congress, 2d session, Boundary between Ga. and
Fla.) They give 14,200 "gun-men," and say that "at a moderate
calculation" there are four times as many old men, women, and children,
as there are gun-men. The estimates of the numbers are very numerous and
very conflicting. After carefully consulting all accessible authorities,
I have come to the conclusion that the above is probably pretty near the
truth. It is the deliberate, official opinion of four trained experts,
who had ample opportunities for investigation, and who examined the
matter with care. But it is very possible that in allotting the several
tribes their numbers they err now and then, as the boundaries between
the tribes shifted continually, and there were always large communities
of renegades, such as the Chickamaugas, who were drawn from the ranks of

2. This is one of the main reasons why the estimates of their numbers
vary so hopelessly. As a specimen case, among many others, compare the
estimate of Professor Benj. Smith Barton ("Origin of the Tribes and
Nations of America," Phila., 1798) with the report of the Commissioner
of Indian Affairs for 1827. Barton estimated that in 1793 the
Appalachian nations numbered in all 13,000 warriors; considering these
as one fifth of the total population, makes it 65,000. In 1837 the
Commissioner reports their numbers at 65,304--almost exactly the same.
Probably both statements are nearly correct, the natural rate of
increase having just about offset the loss in consequence of a partial
change of home, and of Jackson's slaughtering wars against the Creeks
and Seminoles. But where they agree in the total, they vary hopelessly
in the details. By Barton's estimate, the Cherokees numbered but 7,500,
the Chocktaws 30,000; by the Commissioner's census the Cherokees
numbered 21,911, the Choctaws 15,000. It is of course out of the
question to believe that while in 44 years the Cherokees had increased
threefold, the Choctaws had diminished one half. The terms themselves
must have altered their significance or else there was extensive
inter-tribal migration. Similarly, according to the reports, the Creeks
had increased by 4,000--the Seminoles and Choctaws had diminished by

3. "Am. Archives," 4th Series, III., 790. Drayton's account, Sept. 23,
'75. This was a carefully taken census, made by the Indian traders.
Apart from the outside communities, such as the Chickamaugas at a later
date, there were:

737 gun-men in the 10 overhill towns
908 " " 23 middle "
356 " " 9 lower "

a total of 2,021 warriors. The outlying towns, who had cast off their
allegiance for the time being, would increase the amount by three or
four hundred more.

4. "History of the American Indians, Particularly Those Nations
Adjoining to the Mississippi, East and West Florida, Georgia, South and
North Carolina, and Virginia." By James Adair (an Indian trader and
resident in the country for forty years), London, 1775. A very valuable
book, but a good deal marred by the author's irrepressible desire to
twist every Indian utterance, habit, and ceremony into a proof that they
are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes. He gives the number of Cherokee
warriors at 2,300.

5. Hawkins, Pickens, Martin, and McIntosh, in their letter, give them
800 warriors: most other estimates make the number smaller.

6. Almost all the early writers make them more numerous. Adair gives
them 4,500 warriors, Hawkins 6,000. But much less seems to have been
known about them than about the Creeks, Cherokees, and Chickasaws; and
most early estimates of Indians were largest when made of the
least-known tribes. Adair's statement is probably the most trustworthy.
The first accurate census showed the Creeks to be more numerous.

7. Hawkins, Pickens, etc., make them "at least" 27,000 in 1789, the
Indian report for 1837 make them 26,844. During the half century they
had suffered from devastating wars and forced removals, and had probably
slightly decreased in number. In Adair's time their population was

8. "Am. Archives," 5th Series, I., 95. Letter of Charles Lee.

9. Adair, 227. Bartram, 390.

10. Bartram, 365.

11. Adair, Bartram.

12. Bartram.

13. "A Sketch of the Creek Country," Benjamin Hawkins. In Coll. Ga.
Hist. Soc. Written in 1798, but not published till fifty years

14. _Do_, p. 33.

15. The use of the word "beloved" by the Creeks was quite peculiar. It
is evidently correctly translated, for Milfort likewise gives it as
"bien aime." It was the title used for any thing held in especial
regard, whether for economic or supernatural reasons; and sometimes it
was used as western tribes use the word "medicine" at the present day.
The old chiefs and conjurers were called the "beloved old men"; what in
the west we would now call the "medicine squaws," were named "the
beloved old women." It was often conferred upon the chief dignitaries of
the whites in writing to them.

16. Hawkins, 37.

17. Bartram, 386. The Uchee town contained at least 1,500 people.

18. _Do_.

19. Hawkins, 30.

20. Hawkins 39; Adair, 408.

21. Bartram, 184.

22. Milfort, 212.

23. Hawkins, 67. Milfort, 203. Bartram, 386. Adair, 418.

24. Hawkins and Adair, _passim_.

25. _Do_. Also _vide_ Bartram.

26. Hawkins, 29, 70. Adair, 428.

27. "History of Alabama," by Albert James Pickett, Charleston, 1851,
II., 30. A valuable work.

28. Milfort, 23, 326. Milfort's book is very interesting, but as the man
himself was evidently a hopeless liar and braggart, it can only be
trusted where it was not for his interest to tell a falsehood. His book
was written after McGillivray's death, the object being to claim for
himself the glory belonging to the half-breed chief. He insisted that he
was the war-chief, the arm, and McGillivray merely the head, and boasts
of his numerous successful war enterprises. But the fact is, that during
this whole time the Creeks performed no important stroke in war; the
successful resistance to American encroachments was due to the diplomacy
of the son of Sehoy. Moreover, Milfort's accounts of his own war deeds
are mainly sheer romancing. He appears simply to have been one of a
score of war chiefs, and there were certainly a dozen other Creek
chiefs, both half-breeds and natives, who were far more formidable to
the frontier than he was; all their names were dreaded by the settlers,
but his was hardly known.

29. Adair, 279.



Between the Ohio and the Great Lakes, directly north of the Appalachian
confederacies, and separated from them by the unpeopled wilderness now
forming the States of Tennessee and Kentucky, dwelt another set of
Indian tribes. They were ruder in life and manners than their southern
kinsmen, less advanced towards civilization, but also far more warlike;
they depended more on the chase and fishing, and much less on
agriculture; they were savages, not merely barbarians; and they were
fewer in numbers and scattered over a wider expanse of territory. But
they were farther advanced than the almost purely nomadic tribes of
horse Indians whom we afterwards encountered west of the Mississippi.
Some of their villages were permanent, at any rate for a term of years,
and near them they cultivated small crops of corn and melons. Their
usual dwelling was the conical wigwam covered with bark, skins, or mats
of plaited reeds but in some of the villages of the tribes nearest the
border there were regular blockhouses, copied from their white
neighbors. They went clad in skins or blankets; the men were hunters and
warriors, who painted their bodies and shaved from their crowns all the
hair except the long scalp-lock, while the squaws were the drudges who
did all the work.

Their relations with the Iroquois, who lay east of them, were rarely
very close, and in fact were generally hostile. They were also usually
at odds with the southern Indians, but among themselves they were
frequently united in time of war into a sort of lax league, and were
collectively designated by the Americans as the northwestern Indians.
All the tribes belonged to the great Algonquin family, with two
exceptions, the Winnebagos and the Wyandots. The former, a branch of the
Dakotahs, dwelt west of Lake Michigan; they came but little in contact
with us, although many of their young men and warriors joined their
neighbors in all the wars against us. The Wyandots or Hurons lived near
Detroit and along the south shore of Lake Erie, and were in battle our
most redoubtable foes. They were close kin to the Iroquois though bitter
enemies to them, and they shared the desperate valor of these, their
hostile kinsfolk, holding themselves above the surrounding Algonquins,
with whom, nevertheless, they lived in peace and friendship.

The Algonquins were divided into many tribes, of ever shifting size. It
would be impossible to place them all, or indeed to enumerate them, with
any degree of accuracy; for the tribes were continually splitting up,
absorbing others, being absorbed in turn, or changing their abode, and,
in addition, there were numerous small sub-tribes or bands of renegades,
which sometimes were and sometimes were not considered as portions of
their larger neighbors. Often, also, separate bands, which would vaguely
regard themselves as all one nation in one generation, would in the next
have lost even this sense of loose tribal unity.

The chief tribes, however, were well known and occupied tolerably
definite locations. The Delawares or Leni-Lenappe, dwelt farthest east,
lying northwest of the upper Ohio, their lands adjoining those of the
Senecas, the largest and most westernmost of the Six Nations. The
Iroquois had been their most relentless foes and oppressors in time gone
by; but on the eve of the Revolution all the border tribes were
forgetting their past differences and were drawing together to make a
stand against the common foe. Thus it came about that parties of young
Seneca braves fought with the Delawares in all their wars against us.

Westward of the Delawares lay the Shawnee villages, along the Scioto and
on the Pickaway plains; but it must be remembered that the Shawnees,
Delawares, and Wyandots were closely united and their villages were
often mixed in together. Still farther to the west, the Miamis or
Twigtees lived between the Miami and the Wabash, together with other
associated tribes, the Piankeshaws and the Weas or Ouatinous. Farther
still, around the French villages, dwelt those scattered survivors of
the Illinois who had escaped the dire fate which befell their
fellow-tribesmen because they murdered Pontiac. Northward of this scanty
people lived the Sacs and Foxes, and around the upper Great Lakes the
numerous and powerful Pottawattamies, Ottawas, and Chippewas; fierce and
treacherous warriors, who did not till the soil, and were hunters and
fishers only, more savage even than the tribes that lay southeast of
them.[1] In the works of the early travellers we read the names of many
other Indian nations; but whether these were indeed separate peoples, or
branches of some of those already mentioned, or whether the different
travellers spelled the Indian names in widely different ways, we cannot
say. All that is certain is that there were many tribes and sub-tribes,
who roamed and warred and hunted over the fair lands now forming the
heart of our mighty nation, that to some of these tribes the whites gave
names and to some they did not, and that the named and the nameless
alike were swept down to the same inevitable doom.

Moreover, there were bands of renegades or discontented Indians, who for
some cause had severed their tribal connections. Two of the most
prominent of these bands were the Cherokees and Mingos, both being noted
for their predatory and murderous nature and their incessant raids on
the frontier settlers. The Cherokees were fugitives from the rest of
their nation, who had fled north, beyond the Ohio, and dwelt in the land
shared by the Delawares and Shawnees, drawing to themselves many of the
lawless young warriors, not only of these tribes, but of the others
still farther off. The Mingos were likewise a mongrel banditti, made up
of outlaws and wild spirits from among the Wyandots and Miamis, as well
as from the Iroquois and the Munceys (a sub-tribe of the Delawares).

All these northwestern nations had at one time been conquered by the
Iroquois, or at least they had been defeated, their lands overrun, and
they themselves forced to acknowledge a vague over-lordship on the part
of their foes. But the power of the Iroquois was now passing away: when
our national history began, with the assembling of the first continental
congress, they had ceased to be a menace to the western tribes, and the
latter no longer feared or obeyed them, regarding them merely as allies
or neutrals. Yet not only the Iroquois, but their kindred folk, notably
the Wyandots, still claimed, and received, for the sake of their ancient
superiority, marks of formal respect from the surrounding Algonquins.
Thus, among the latter, the Leni-Lenappe possessed the titular headship,
and were called "grandfathers" at all the solemn councils as well as in
the ceremonious communications that passed among the tribes; yet in turn
they had to use similar titles of respect in addressing not only their
former oppressors, but also their Huron allies, who had suffered under
the same galling yoke.[2]

The northwestern nations had gradually come to equal the Iroquois as
warriors; but among themselves the palm was still held by the Wyandots,
who, although no more formidable than the others as regards skill,
hardihood, and endurance, nevertheless stood alone in being willing to
suffer heavy punishment in order to win a victory.[3]

The Wyandots had been under the influence of the French Jesuits, and
were nominally Christians;[4] and though the attempt to civilize them
had not been very successful, and they remained in most respects
precisely like the Indians around them, there had been at least one
point gained, for they were not, as a rule, nearly so cruel to their
prisoners. Thus they surpassed their neighbors in mercifulness as well
as valor. All the Algonquin tribes stood, in this respect, much on the
same plane. The Delawares, whose fate it had been to be ever buffeted
about by both the whites and the reds, had long cowered under the
Iroquois terror, but they had at last shaken it off, had reasserted the
superiority which tradition says they once before held, and had become a
formidable and warlike race. Indeed it is curious to study how the
Delawares have changed in respect to their martial prowess since the
days when the whites first came in contact with them. They were then not
accounted a formidable people, and were not feared by any of their
neighbors. By the time the Revolution broke out they had become better
warriors, and during the twenty years' Indian warfare that ensued were
as formidable as most of the other redskins. But when moved west of the
Mississippi, instead of their spirit being broken, they became more
warlike than ever, and throughout the present century they have been the
most renowned fighters of all the Indian peoples, and, moreover, they
have been celebrated for their roving, adventurous nature. Their numbers
have steadily dwindled, owing to their incessant wars and to the
dangerous nature of their long roamings.[5]

It is impossible to make any but the roughest guess at the numbers of
these northwestern Indians. It seems probable that there were
considerably over fifty thousand of them in all; but no definite
assertion can be made even as to the different tribes. As with the
southern Indians, old-time writers certainly greatly exaggerated their
numbers, and their modern followers show a tendency to fall into the
opposite fault, the truth being that any number of isolated observations
to support either position can be culled from the works of the
contemporary travellers and statisticians.[6] No two independent
observers give the same figures. One main reason for this is doubtless
the exceedingly loose way in which the word "tribe" was used. If a man
speaks of the Miamis and the Delawares, for instance, before we can
understand him we must know whether he includes therein the Weas and the
Munceys, for he may or may not. By quoting the numbers attributed by the
old writers to the various sub-tribes, and then comparing them with the
numbers given later on by writers using the same names, but speaking of
entire confederacies, it is easy to work out an apparent increase, while
a reversal of the process shows an appalling decrease. Moreover, as the
bands broke up, wandered apart, and then rejoined each other or not as
events fell out, two successive observers might make widely different
estimates. Many tribes that have disappeared were undoubtedly actually
destroyed; many more have simply changed their names or have been
absorbed by other tribes. Similarly, those that have apparently held
their own have done so at the expense of their neighbors. This was made
all the easier by the fact that the Algonquins were so closely related
in customs and language; indeed, there was constant intermarriage
between the different tribes. On the whole, however, there is no
question that, in striking contrast to the southern or Appalachian
Indians, these northwestern tribes have suffered a terrible diminution
in numbers.

With many of them we did not come into direct contact for long years
after our birth as a nation. Perhaps those tribes with all or part of
whose warriors we were brought into collision at some time during or
immediately succeeding the Revolutionary war may have amounted to thirty
thousand souls.[7] But though they acknowledged kinship with one
another, and though they all alike hated the Americans, and though,
moreover, all at times met in the great councils, to smoke the calumet
of peace and brighten the chain of friendship[8] among themselves, and
to take up the tomahawk[9] against the white foes, yet the tie that
bound them together was so loose, and they were so fickle and so split
up by jarring interests and small jealousies, that never more than half
of them went to war at the same time. Very frequently even the members
of a tribe would fail to act together.

Thus it came about that during the forty years intervening between
Braddock's defeat and Wayne's victory, though these northwestern tribes
waged incessant, unending, relentless warfare against our borders, yet
they never at any one time had more than three thousand warriors in the
field, and frequently not half that number,[10] and in all the battles
they fought with British and American troops there was not one in which
they were eleven hundred strong.[11]

But they were superb individual fighters, beautifully drilled in their
own discipline;[12] and they were favored beyond measure by the nature
of their ground, of which their whole system of warfare enabled them to
take the utmost possible benefit. Much has been written and sung of the
advantages possessed by the mountaineer when striving in his own home
against invaders from the plains; but these advantages are as nothing
when weighed with those which make the warlike dweller in forests
unconquerable by men who have not his training. A hardy soldier,
accustomed only to war in the open, will become a good cragsman in fewer
weeks than it will take him years to learn to be so much as a fair
woodsman; for it is beyond all comparison more difficult to attain
proficiency in woodcraft than in mountaineering.[13]

The Wyandots, and the Algonquins who surrounded them, dwelt in a region
of sunless, tangled forests; and all the wars we waged for the
possession of the country between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi
were carried on in the never-ending stretches of gloomy woodland. It was
not an open forest. The underbrush grew, dense and rank, between the
boles of the tall trees, making a cover so thick that it was in many
places impenetrable, so thick that it nowhere gave a chance for human
eye to see even as far as a bow could carry. No horse could penetrate it
save by following the game trails or paths chopped with the axe; and a
stranger venturing a hundred yards from a beaten road would be so
helplessly lost that he could not, except by the merest chance, even
find his way back to the spot he had just left. Here and there it was
broken by a rare hillside glade or by a meadow in a stream valley; but
elsewhere a man might travel for weeks as if in a perpetual twilight,
never once able to see the sun, through the interlacing twigs that
formed a dark canopy above his head.

This dense forest was to the Indians a home in which they had lived from
childhood, and where they were as much at ease as a farmer on his own
acres. To their keen eyes, trained for generations to more than a wild
beast's watchfulness, the wilderness was an open book; nothing at rest
or in motion escaped them. They had begun to track game as soon as they
could walk; a scrape on a tree trunk, a bruised leaf, a faint
indentation of the soil, which the eye of no white man could see, all
told them a tale as plainly as if it had been shouted in their ears.[14]
With moccasined feet they trod among brittle twigs, dried leaves, and
dead branches as silently as the cougar, and they equalled the great
wood-cat in stealth and far surpassed it in cunning and ferocity. They
could no more get lost in the trackless wilderness than a civilized man
could get lost on a highway. Moreover, no knight of the middle ages was
so surely protected by his armor as they were by their skill in hiding;
the whole forest was to the whites one vast ambush, and to them a sure
and ever-present shield. Every tree trunk was a breastwork ready
prepared for battle; every bush, every moss-covered boulder, was a
defence against assault, from behind which, themselves unseen, they
watched with fierce derision the movements of their clumsy white enemy.
Lurking, skulking, travelling with noiseless rapidity, they left a trail
that only a master in woodcraft could follow, while, on the other hand,
they could dog a white man's footsteps as a hound runs a fox. Their
silence, their cunning and stealth, their terrible prowess and merciless
cruelty, makes it no figure of speech to call them the tigers of the
human race.

Unlike the southern Indians, the villages of the northwestern tribes
were usually far from the frontier. Tireless, and careless of all
hardship, they came silently out of unknown forests, robbed and
murdered, and then disappeared again into the fathomless depths of the
woods. Half of the terror they caused was due to the extreme difficulty
of following them, and the absolute impossibility of forecasting their
attacks. Without warning, and unseen until the moment they dealt the
death stroke, they emerged from their forest fastnesses, the horror they
caused being heightened no less by the mystery that shrouded them than
by the dreadful nature of their ravages. Wrapped in the mantle of the
unknown, appalling by their craft, their ferocity, their fiendish
cruelty, they seemed to the white settlers devils and not men; no one
could say with certainty whence they came nor of what tribe they were;
and when they had finished their dreadful work they retired into a
wilderness that closed over their trail as the waves of the ocean close
in the wake of a ship.

They were trained to the use of arms from their youth up, and war and
hunting were their two chief occupations, the business as well as the
pleasure of their lives. They were not as skilful as the white hunters
with the rifle[15]--though more so than the average regular
soldier,--nor could they equal the frontiersman in feats of physical
prowess, such as boxing and wrestling; but their superior endurance and
the ease with which they stood fatigue and exposure made amends for
this. A white might outrun them for eight or ten miles; but on a long
journey they could tire out any man, and any beast except a wolf. Like
most barbarians they were fickle and inconstant, not to be relied on for
pushing through a long campaign, and after a great victory apt to go off
to their homes, because each man desired to secure his own plunder and
tell his own tale of glory. They are often spoken of as undisciplined;
but in reality their discipline in the battle itself was very high. They
attacked, retreated, rallied or repelled a charge at the signal of
command; and they were able to fight in open order in thick covers
without losing touch of each other--a feat that no European regiment was
then able to perform.

On their own ground they were far more formidable than the best European
troops. The British grenadiers throughout the eighteenth century showed
themselves superior, in the actual shock of battle, to any infantry of
continental Europe; if they ever met an over-match, it was when pitted
against the Scotch highlanders. Yet both grenadier and highlander, the
heroes of Minden, the heirs to the glory of Marlborough's campaigns, as
well as the sinewy soldiers who shared in the charges of Prestonpans and
Culloden, proved helpless when led against the dark tribesmen of the
forest. On the march they could not be trusted thirty yards from the
column without getting lost in the woods[16]--the mountain training of
the highlanders apparently standing them in no stead whatever,--and were
only able to get around at all when convoyed by backwoodsmen. In fight
they fared even worse. The British regulars at Braddock's battle, and
the highlanders at Grant's defeat a few years later, suffered the same
fate. Both battles were fair fights; neither was a surprise; yet the
stubborn valor of the red-coated grenadier and the headlong courage of
the kilted Scot proved of less than no avail. Not only were they utterly
routed and destroyed in each case by an inferior force of Indians (the
French taking little part in the conflict), but they were able to make
no effective resistance whatever; it is to this day doubtful whether
these superb regulars were able, in the battles where they were
destroyed, to so much as kill one Indian for every hundred of their own
men who fell. The provincials who were with the regulars were the only
troops who caused any loss to the foe; and this was true in but a less
degree of Bouquet's fight at Bushy Run. Here Bouquet, by a clever
stratagem, gained the victory over an enemy inferior in numbers to
himself; but only after a two days' struggle in which he suffered a
fourfold greater loss than he inflicted.[17]

When hemmed in so that they had no hope of escape, the Indians fought to
the death; but when a way of retreat was open they would not stand
cutting like British, French, or American regulars, and so, though with
a nearly equal force, would retire if they were suffering heavily, even
if they were causing their foes to suffer still more. This was not due
to lack of courage; it was their system, for they were few in numbers,
and they did not believe in losing their men.[18] The Wyandots were
exceptions to this rule, for with them it was a point of honor not to
yield, and so they were of all the tribes the most dangerous in an
actual pitched battle.[19]

But making the attack, as they usually did, with the expectation of
success, all were equally dangerous. If their foes were clustered
together in a huddle they attacked them without hesitation, no matter
what the difference in numbers, and shot them down as if they had been
elk or buffalo, they themselves being almost absolutely safe from harm,
as they flitted from cover to cover. It was this capacity for hiding, or
taking advantage of cover, that gave them their great superiority; and
it is because of this that the wood tribes were so much more formidable
foes in actual battle than the horse Indians of the plains afterwards
proved themselves. In dense woodland a body of regular soldiers are
almost as useless against Indians as they would be if at night they had
to fight foes who could see in the dark; it needs special and
long-continued training to fit them in any degree for wood-fighting
against such foes. Out on the plains the white hunter's skill with the
rifle and his cool resolution give him an immense advantage; a few
determined men can withstand a host of Indians in the open, although
helpless if they meet them in thick cover; and our defeats by the Sioux
and other plains tribes have generally taken the form of a small force
being overwhelmed by a large one.

Not only were the Indians very terrible in battle, but they were cruel
beyond all belief in victory; and the gloomy annals of border warfare
are stained with their darkest hues because it was a war in which
helpless women and children suffered the same hideous fate that so often
befell their husbands and fathers. It was a war waged by savages against
armed settlers, whose families followed them into the wilderness. Such a
war is inevitably bloody and cruel; but the inhuman love of cruelty for
cruelty's sake,[20] which marks the red Indian above all other savages,
rendered these wars more terrible than any others. For the hideous,
unnamable, unthinkable tortures practised by the red men on their
captured foes, and on their foes' tender women and helpless children,
were such as we read of in no other struggle, hardly even in the
revolting pages that tell the deeds of the Holy Inquisition. It was
inevitable--indeed it was in many instances proper--that such deeds
should awake in the breasts of the whites the grimmest, wildest spirit
of revenge and hatred.

The history of the border wars, both in the ways they were begun and in
the ways they were waged, make a long tale of injuries inflicted,
suffered, and mercilessly revenged. It could not be otherwise when
brutal, reckless, lawless borderers, despising all men not of their own
color, were thrown in contact with savages who esteemed cruelty and
treachery as the highest of virtues, and rapine and murder as the
worthiest of pursuits. Moreover, it was sadly inevitable that the
law-abiding borderer as well as the white ruffian, the peaceful Indian
as well as the painted marauder, should be plunged into the struggle to
suffer the punishment that should only have fallen on their evil-minded

Looking back, it is easy to say that much of the wrong-doing could have
been prevented; but if we examine the facts to find out the truth, not
to establish a theory, we are bound to admit that the struggle was
really one that could not possibly have been avoided. The sentimental
historians speak as if the blame had been all ours, and the wrong all
done to our foes, and as if it would have been possible by any exercise
of wisdom to reconcile claims that were in their very essence
conflicting; but their utterances are as shallow as they are
untruthful.[21] Unless we were willing that the whole continent west of
the Alleghanies should remain an unpeopled waste, the hunting-ground of
savages, war was inevitable; and even had we been willing, and had we
refrained from encroaching on the Indians' lands, the war would have
come nevertheless, for then the Indians themselves would have encroached
on ours. Undoubtedly we have wronged many tribes; but equally
undoubtedly our first definite knowledge of many others has been derived
from their unprovoked outrages upon our people. The Chippewas, Ottawas,
and Pottawatamies furnished hundreds of young warriors to the parties
that devastated our frontiers generations before we in any way
encroached upon or wronged them.

Mere outrages could be atoned for or settled; the question which lay at
the root of our difficulties was that of the occupation of the land
itself, and to this there could be no solution save war. The Indians had
no ownership of the land in the way in which we understand the term. The
tribes lived far apart; each had for its hunting-grounds all the
territory from which it was not barred by rivals. Each looked with
jealousy upon all interlopers, but each was prompt to act as an
interloper when occasion offered. Every good hunting-ground was claimed
by many nations. It was rare, indeed, that any tribe had an uncontested
title to a large tract of land; where such title existed, it rested, not
on actual occupancy and cultivation, but on the recent butchery of
weaker rivals. For instance, there were a dozen tribes, all of whom
hunted in Kentucky, and fought each other there, all of whom had equally
good titles to the soil, and not one of whom acknowledged the right of
any other; as a matter of fact they had therein no right, save the right
of the strongest. The land no more belonged to them than it belonged to
Boon and the white hunters who first visited it.

On the borders there are perpetual complaints of the encroachments of
whites upon Indian lands; and naturally the central government at
Washington, and before it was at Washington, has usually been inclined
to sympathize with the feeling that considers the whites the aggressors,
for the government does not wish a war, does not itself feel any land
hunger, hears of not a tenth of the Indian outrages, and knows by
experience that the white borderers are not easy to rule. As a
consequence, the official reports of the people who are not on the
ground are apt to paint the Indian side in its most favorable light, and
are often completely untrustworthy, this being particularly the case if
the author of the report is an eastern man, utterly unacquainted with
the actual condition of affairs on the frontier.

Such a man, though both honest and intelligent, when he hears that the
whites have settled on Indian lands, cannot realize that the act has no
resemblance whatever to the forcible occupation of land already
cultivated. The white settler has merely moved into an uninhabited
waste; he does not feel that he is committing a wrong, for he knows
perfectly well that the land is really owned by no one. It is never even
visited, except perhaps for a week or two every year, and then the
visitors are likely at any moment to be driven off by a rival
hunting-party of greater strength. The settler ousts no one from the
land; if he did not chop down the trees, hew out the logs for a
building, and clear the ground for tillage, no one else would do so. He
drives out the game, however, and of course the Indians who live thereon
sink their mutual animosities and turn against the intruder. The truth
is, the Indians never had any real title to the soil; they had not half
as good a claim to it, for instance, as the cattlemen now have to all
eastern Montana, yet no one would assert that the cattlemen have a right
to keep immigrants off their vast unfenced ranges. The settler and
pioneer have at bottom had justice on their side; this great continent
could not have been kept as nothing but a game preserve for squalid
savages. Moreover, to the most oppressed Indian nations the whites often
acted as a protection, or, at least, they deferred instead of hastening
their fate. But for the interposition of the whites it is probable that
the Iroquois would have exterminated every Algonquin tribe before the
end of the eighteenth century; exactly as in recent time the Crows and
Pawnees would have been destroyed by the Sioux, had it not been for the
wars we have waged against the latter.

Again, the loose governmental system of the Indians made it as difficult
to secure a permanent peace with them as it was to negotiate the
purchase of the lands. The sachem, or hereditary peace chief, and the
elective war chief, who wielded only the influence that he could secure
by his personal prowess and his tact, were equally unable to control all
of their tribesmen, and were powerless with their confederated nations.
If peace was made with the Shawnees, the war was continued by the
Miamis; if peace was made with the latter, nevertheless perhaps one
small band was dissatisfied, and continued the contest on its own
account; and even if all the recognized bands were dealt with, the
parties of renegades or outlaws had to be considered; and in the last
resort the full recognition accorded by the Indians to the right of
private warfare, made it possible for any individual warrior who
possessed any influence to go on raiding and murdering unchecked. Every
tribe, every sub-tribe, every band of a dozen souls ruled over by a
petty chief, almost every individual warrior of the least importance,
had to be met and pacified. Even if peace were declared, the Indians
could not exist long without breaking it. There was to them no
temptation to trespass on the white man's ground for the purpose of
settling; but every young brave was brought up to regard scalps taken
and horses stolen, in war or peace, as the highest proofs and tokens of
skill and courage, the sure means of attaining glory and honor, the
admiration of men and the love of women. Where the young men thought
thus, and the chiefs had so little real control, it was inevitable that
there should be many unprovoked forays for scalps, slaves, and horses
made upon the white borderers.[22]

As for the whites themselves, they too have many and grievous sins
against their red neighbors for which to answer. They cannot be severely
blamed for trespassing upon what was called the Indian's land; for let
sentimentalists say what they will, the man who puts the soil to use
must of right dispossess the man who does not, or the world will come to
a standstill; but for many of their other deeds there can be no pardon.
On the border each man was a law unto himself, and good and bad alike
were left in perfect freedom to follow out to the uttermost limits their
own desires; for the spirit of individualism so characteristic of
American life reached its extreme of development in the back-woods. The
whites who wished peace, the magistrates and leaders, had little more
power over their evil and unruly fellows than the Indian sachems had
over the turbulent young braves. Each man did what seemed best in his
own eyes, almost without let or hindrance; unless, indeed, he trespassed
upon the rights of his neighbors, who were ready enough to band together
in their own defence, though slow to interfere in the affairs of others.

Thus the men of lawless, brutal spirit who are found in every community
and who flock to places where the reign of order is lax, were able to
follow the bent of their inclinations unchecked. They utterly despised
the red man; they held it no crime whatever to cheat him in trading, to
rob him of his peltries or horses, to murder him if the fit seized them.
Criminals who generally preyed on their own neighbors, found it easier,
and perhaps hardly as dangerous, to pursue their calling at the expense
of the redskins, for the latter, when they discovered that they had been
wronged, were quite as apt to vent their wrath on some outsider as on
the original offender. If they injured a white, all the whites might
make common cause against them; but if they injured a red man, though
there were sure to be plenty of whites who disapproved of it, there were
apt to be very few indeed whose disapproval took any active shape.

Each race stood by its own members, and each held all of the other race
responsible for the misdeeds of a few uncontrollable spirits; and this
clannishness among those of one color, and the refusal or the inability
to discriminate between the good and the bad of the other color were the
two most fruitful causes of border strife.[23] When, even if he sought
to prevent them, the innocent man was sure to suffer for the misdeeds of
the guilty, unless both joined together for defence, the former had no
alternative save to make common cause with the latter. Moreover, in a
sparse backwoods settlement, where the presence of a strong, vigorous
fighter was a source of safety to the whole community, it was impossible
to expect that he would be punished with severity for offences which, in
their hearts, his fellow townsmen could not help regarding as in some
sort a revenge for the injuries they had themselves suffered. Every
quiet, peaceable settler had either himself been grievously wronged, or
had been an eye-witness to wrongs done to his friends; and while these
were vivid in his mind, the corresponding wrongs done the Indians were
never brought home to him at all. If his son was scalped or his cattle
driven off, he could not be expected to remember that perhaps the
Indians who did the deed had themselves been cheated by a white trader,
or had lost a relative at the hands of some border ruffian, or felt
aggrieved because a hundred miles off some settler had built a cabin on
lands they considered their own. When he joined with other exasperated
and injured men to make a retaliatory inroad, his vengeance might or
might not fall on the heads of the real offenders; and, in any case, he
was often not in the frame of mind to put a stop to the outrages sure to
be committed by the brutal spirits among his allies--though these brutal
spirits were probably in a small minority.

The excesses so often committed by the whites, when, after many checks
and failures, they at last grasped victory, are causes for shame and
regret; yet it is only fair to keep in mind the terrible provocations
they had endured. Mercy, pity, magnanimity to the fallen, could not be
expected from the frontiersmen gathered together to war against an
Indian tribe. Almost every man of such a band had bitter personal wrongs
to avenge. He was not taking part in a war against a civilized foe; he
was fighting in a contest where women and children suffered the fate of
the strong men, and instead of enthusiasm for his country's flag and a
general national animosity towards its enemies, he was actuated by a
furious flame of hot anger, and was goaded on by memories of which
merely to think was madness. His friends had been treacherously slain
while on messages of peace; his house had been burned, his cattle driven
off, and all he had in the world destroyed before he knew that war
existed and when he felt quite guiltless of all offence; his sweetheart
or wife had been carried off, ravished, and was at the moment the slave
and concubine of some dirty and brutal Indian warrior; his son, the stay
of his house, had been burned at the stake with torments too horrible to
mention;[24] his sister, when ransomed and returned to him, had told of
the weary journey through the woods, when she carried around her neck as
a horrible necklace the bloody scalps of her husband and children;[25]
seared into his eyeballs, into his very brain, he bore ever with him,
waking or sleeping, the sight of the skinned, mutilated, hideous body of
the baby who had just grown old enough to recognize him and to crow and
laugh when taken in his arms. Such incidents as these were not
exceptional; one or more, and often all of them, were the invariable
attendants of every one of the countless Indian inroads that took place
during the long generations of forest warfare. It was small wonder that
men who had thus lost every thing should sometimes be fairly crazed by
their wrongs. Again and again on the frontier we hear of some such
unfortunate who has devoted all the remainder of his wretched life to
the one object of taking vengeance on the whole race of the men who had
darkened his days forever. Too often the squaws and pappooses fell
victims of the vengeance that should have come only on the warriors; for
the whites regarded their foes as beasts rather than men, and knew that
the squaws were more cruel than others in torturing the prisoner, and
that the very children took their full part therein, being held up by
their fathers to tomahawk the dying victims at the stake.[26]

Thus it is that there are so many dark and bloody pages in the book of
border warfare, that grim and iron-bound volume, wherein we read how our
forefathers won the wide lands that we inherit. It contains many a tale
of fierce heroism and adventurous ambition, of the daring and resolute
courage of men and the patient endurance of women; it shows us a stern
race of freemen who toiled hard, endured greatly, and fronted adversity
bravely, who prized strength and courage and good faith, whose wives
were chaste, who were generous and loyal to their friends. But it shows
us also how they spurned at restraint and fretted under it, how they
would brook no wrong to themselves, and yet too often inflicted wrong on
others; their feats of terrible prowess are interspersed with deeds of
the foulest and most wanton aggression, the darkest treachery, the most
revolting cruelty; and though we meet with plenty of the rough, strong,
coarse virtues, we see but little of such qualities as mercy for the
fallen, the weak, and the helpless, or pity for a gallant and vanquished

Among the Indians of the northwest, generally so much alike that we need
pay little heed to tribal distinctions, there was one body deserving
especial and separate mention. Among the turbulent and jarring elements
tossed into wild confusion by the shock of the contact between savages
and the rude vanguard of civilization, surrounded and threatened by the
painted warriors of the woods no less than by the lawless white riflemen
who lived on the stump-dotted clearings, there dwelt a group of peaceful
beings who were destined to suffer a dire fate in the most lamentable
and pitiable of all the tragedies which were played out in the heart of
this great wilderness. These were the Moravian Indians.[27] They were
mostly Delawares, and had been converted by the indefatigable German
missionaries, who taught the tranquil, Quaker-like creed of Count
Zinzendorf. The zeal and success of the missionaries were attested by
the marvellous change they had wrought in these converts; for they had
transformed them in one generation from a restless, idle, blood-thirsty
people of hunters and fishers, into an orderly, thrifty, industrious
folk, believing with all their hearts the Christian religion in the form
in which their teachers both preached and practised it. At first the
missionaries, surrounded by their Indian converts, dwelt in
Pennsylvania; but, harried and oppressed by their white neighbors, the
submissive and patient Moravians left their homes and their cherished
belongings, and in 1771 moved out into the wilderness northwest of the
Ohio. It is a bitter and unanswerable commentary on the workings of a
non-resistant creed when reduced to practice, that such outrages and
massacres as those committed on these helpless Indians were more
numerous and flagrant in the colony the Quakers governed than in any
other; their vaunted policy of peace, which forbade them to play a true
man's part and put down wrong-doing, caused the utmost possible evil to
fall both on the white man and the red. An avowed policy of force and
fraud carried out in the most cynical manner could hardly have worked
more terrible injustice; their system was a direct incentive to crime
and wrong-doing between the races, for they punished the aggressions of
neither, and hence allowed any blow to always fall heaviest on those
least deserving to suffer. No other colony made such futile,
contemptible efforts to deal with the Indian problem; no other colony
showed such supine, selfish helplessness in allowing her own border
citizens to be mercilessly harried; none other betrayed such inability
to master the hostile Indians, while, nevertheless, utterly failing to
protect those who were peaceful and friendly.

When the Moravians removed beyond the Ohio, they settled on the banks of
the Muskingum, made clearings in the forest, and built themselves little
towns, which they christened by such quaint names as Salem and
Gnadenhutten; names that were pathetic symbols of the peace which the
harmless and sadly submissive wanderers so vainly sought. Here, in the
forest, they worked and toiled, surrounded their clean, neatly kept
villages with orchards and grain-fields, bred horses and cattle, and
tried to do wrong to no man; all of each community meeting every day to
worship and praise their Creator. But the missionaries who had done so
much for them had also done one thing which more than offset it all: for
they had taught them not to defend themselves, and had thus exposed the
poor beings who trusted their teaching to certain destruction. No
greater wrong can ever be done than to put a good man at the mercy of a
bad, while telling him not to defend himself or his fellows; in no way
can the success of evil be made surer and quicker; but the wrong was
peculiarly great when at such a time and in such a place the defenceless
Indians were thrust between the anvil of their savage red brethren and
the hammer of the lawless and brutal white borderers. The awful harvest
which the poor converts reaped had in reality been sown for them by
their own friends and would-be benefactors.

So the Moravians, seeking to deal honestly with Indians and whites
alike, but in return suspected and despised by both, worked patiently
year in and year out, as they dwelt in their lonely homes, meekly
awaiting the stroke of the terrible doom which hung over them.

1. See papers by Stephen D. Peet, on the northwestern tribes, read
before the state Archaeological Society of Ohio, 1878.

2. Barton, xxv.

3. General W. H. Harrison, "Aborigines of the Ohio Valley." Old
"Tippecanoe" was the best possible authority for their courage.

4. "Remarkable Occurrences in the Life and Travels of Col. James Smith,"
etc., written by himself, Lexington, Ky., 1799. Smith is our best
contemporary authority on Indian warfare; he lived with them for several
years, and fought them in many campaigns. Besides several editions of
the above, he also published in 1812, at Paris, Ky., a "Treatise" on
Indian warfare, which holds much the same matter.

5. See Parkman's "Oregon Trail." In 1884 I myself met two Delawares
hunting alone, just north of the Black Hills. They were returning from a
trip to the Rocky Mountains. I could not but admire their strong, manly
forms, and the disdainful resolution with which they had hunted and
travelled for so many hundred miles, in defiance of the white
frontiersmen and of the wild native tribes as well. I think they were in
more danger from the latter than the former, but they seemed perfectly
confident of their ability to hold their own against both.

6. See Barton, the Madison MSS., Schoolcraft, Thos. Hutchins (who
accompanied Bouquet), Smythe, Pike, various reports of the U. S. Indian
Commissioners, etc, etc.

7. I base this number on a careful examination of the tribes named
above, discarding such of the northern bands of the Chippewas, for
instance, as were unlikely at that time to have been drawn into war with

8. The expressions generally used by them in sending their war talks and
peace talks to one another or the whites. Hundreds of copies of these
"talks" are preserved at Washington.

9. _Do_.

10. Smith, "Remarkable Occurrences," etc., p. 154. Smith gives a very
impartial account of the Indian discipline and of their effectiveness,
and is one of the few men who warred against them who did not greatly
overestimate their numbers and losses. He was a successful Indian
fighter himself. For the British regulars he had the true backwoods
contempt, although having more than the average backwoods sense in
acknowledging their effectiveness in the open. He had lived so long
among the Indians, and estimated so highly their personal prowess, that
his opinion must be accepted with caution where dealing with matters of
discipline and command.

11. The accounts of the Indian numbers in any battle given by British or
Americans, soldiers or civilians, are ludicrously exaggerated as a rule;
even now it seems a common belief of historians that the whites were
generally outnumbered in battles, while in reality they were generally
much more numerous than their foes.

12. Harrison (_loc. cit._) calls them "the finest light troops in
the world"; and he had had full experience in serving with American and
against British infantry.

13. Any one who is fond of the chase can test the truth of this
proposition for himself, by trying how long it will take him to learn to
kill a bighorn on the mountains, and how long it will take him to learn
to kill white-tail deer in a dense forest, by fair still-hunting, the
game being equally plenty. I have known many novices learn to equal the
best old hunters, red or white, in killing mountain game; I have never
met one who could begin to do as well as an Indian in the dense forest,
unless brought up to it--and rarely even then. Yet, though woodcraft is
harder to learn, it does not imply the possession of such valuable
qualities as mountaineering; and when cragsman and woodman meet on
neutral ground, the former is apt to be the better man.

14. To this day the wild--not the half-tame--Indians remain unequalled
as trackers. Even among the old hunters not one white in a hundred can
come near them. In my experience I have known a very few whites who had
spent all their lives in the wilderness who equalled the Indian average;
but I never met any white who came up to the very best Indian. But,
because of their better shooting and their better nerve, the whites
often make the better hunters.

15. It is curious how to this day the wild Indians retain the same
traits. I have seen and taken part in many matches between frontiersmen
and the Sioux, Cheyennes, Grosventres, and Mandans, and the Indians were
beaten in almost every one. On the other hand the Indians will stand
fatigue, hunger, and privation better, but they seem more susceptible to

16. See Parkman's "Conspiracy of Pontiac"; also "Montcalm and Wolfe."

17. Bouquet, like so many of his predecessors and successors, greatly
exaggerated the numbers and loss of the Indians in this fight. Smith,
who derived his information both from the Indians and from the American
rangers, states that but eighteen Indians were killed at Bushy Run.

18. Most of the plains Indians feel in the same way at present. I was
once hunting with a Sioux half-breed who illustrated the Indian view of
the matter in a rather striking way, saying: "If there were a dozen of
you white hunters and you found six or eight bears in the brush, and you
knew you could go in and kill them all, but that in the fight you would
certainly lose three or four men yourselves, you wouldn't go in, would
you? You'd wait until you got a better chance, and could kill them
without so much risk. Well, Indians feel the same way about attacking
whites that you would feel about attacking those bears."

19. All the authorities from Smith to Harrison are unanimous on this

20. Any one who has ever been in an encampment of wild Indians, and has
had the misfortune to witness the delight the children take in torturing
little animals, will admit that the Indian's love of cruelty for
cruelty's sake cannot possibly be exaggerated. The young are so trained
that when old they shall find their keenest pleasure in inflicting pain
in its most appalling form. Among the most brutal white borderers a man
would be instantly lynched if he practised on any creature the fiendish
torture which in an Indian camp either attracts no notice at all, or
else excites merely laughter.

21. See Appendix A.

22. Similarly the Crows, who have always been treated well by us, have
murdered and robbed any number of peaceful, unprotected travellers
during the past three decades, as I know personally.

23. It is precisely the same at the present day. I have known a party of
Sioux to steal the horses of a buffalo-hunting outfit, whereupon the
latter retaliated by stealing the horses of a party of harmless
Grosventres; and I knew a party of Cheyennes, whose horses had been
taken by white thieves, to, in revenge, assail a camp of perfectly
orderly cowboys. Most of the ranchmen along the Little Missouri in 1884,
were pretty good fellows, who would not wrong Indians, yet they
tolerated for a long time the presence of men who did not scruple to
boast that they stole horses from the latter; while our peaceful
neighbors, the Grosventres, likewise permitted two notorious red-skinned
horse thieves to use their reservation as a harbor of refuge, and a
starting-point from which to make forays against the cattlemen.

24. The expression "too horrible to mention" is to be taken literally,
not figuratively. It applies equally to the fate that has befallen every
white man or woman who has fallen into the power of hostile plains
Indians during the last ten or fifteen years. The nature of the wild
Indian has not changed. Not one man in a hundred, and not a single
woman, escapes torments which a civilized man cannot look another in the
face and so much as speak of. Impalement on charred stakes, finger-nails
split off backwards, finger-joints chewed off, eyes burned out--these
tortures can be mentioned, but there are others equally normal and
customary which cannot even be hinted at, especially when women are the

25. For the particular incident see M'Ferrin's "History of Methodism in
Tennessee," p. 145.

26. As was done to the father of Simon Girty. Any history of any Indian
inroad will give examples such as I have mentioned above. See McAfee
MSS., John P. Hale's "Trans-Alleghany Pioneers," De Haas' "Indian Wars,"
Wither's "Border War," etc. In one respect, however, the Indians east of
the Mississippi were better than the tribes of the plains from whom our
borders have suffered during the present century; their female captives
were not invariably ravished by every member of the band capturing them,
as has ever been the custom among the horse Indians. Still, they were
often made the concubines of their captors.

27. The missionaries called themselves United Brethren; to outsiders
they were known as Moravians. Loskiel, "History of the Mission of the
United Brethren," London, 1794. Heckewelder, "Narrative of the Mission
of the United Brethren," Phil., 1820.



Along the western frontier of the colonies that were so soon to be the
United States, among the foothills of the Alleghanies, on the slopes of
the wooded mountains, and in the long trough-like valleys that lay
between the ranges, dwelt a peculiar and characteristically American

These frontier folk, the people of the up-country, or back-country, who
lived near and among the forest-clad mountains, far away from the
long-settled districts of flat coast plain and sluggish tidal river,
were known to themselves and to others as backwoodsmen. They all bore a
strong likeness to one another in their habits of thought and ways of
living, and differed markedly from the people of the older and more
civilized communities to the eastward. The western border of our country
was then formed by the great barrier-chains of the Alleghanies, which
ran north and south from Pennsylvania through Maryland, Virginia, and
the Carolinas,[1] the trend of the valleys being parallel to the
sea-coast, and the mountains rising highest to the southward. It was
difficult to cross the ranges from east to west, but it was both easy
and natural to follow the valleys between. From Fort Pitt to the high
hill-homes of the Cherokees this great tract of wooded and mountainous
country possessed nearly the same features and characteristics,
differing utterly in physical aspect from the alluvial plains bordering
the ocean.

So, likewise, the backwoods mountaineers who dwelt near the great
watershed that separates the Atlantic streams from the springs of the
Watauga, the Kanawha, and the Monongahela were all cast in the same
mould, and resembled each other much more than any of them did their
immediate neighbors of the plains. The backwoodsmen of Pennsylvania had
little in common with the peaceful population of Quakers and Germans who
lived between the Delaware and the Susquehanna; and their near kinsmen
of the Blue Ridge and the Great Smoky Mountains were separated by an
equally wide gulf from the aristocratic planter communities that
flourished in the tide-water regions of Virginia and the Carolinas. Near
the coast the lines of division between the colonies corresponded fairly
well with the differences between the populations; but after striking
the foothills, though the political boundaries continued to go east and
west, those both of ethnic and of physical significance began to run
north and south.

The backwoodsmen were Americans by birth and parentage, and of mixed
race; but the dominant strain in their blood was that of the
Presbyterian Irish--the Scotch-Irish as they were often called. Full
credit has been awarded the Roundhead and the Cavalier for their
leadership in our history; nor have we been altogether blind to the
deeds of the Hollander and the Huguenot; but it is doubtful if we have
wholly realized the importance of the part played by that stern and
virile people, the Irish whose preachers taught the creed of Knox and
Calvin. These Irish representatives of the Covenanters were in the west
almost what the Puritans were in the northeast, and more than the
Cavaliers were in the south. Mingled with the descendants of many other
races, they nevertheless formed the kernel of the distinctively and
intensely American stock who were the pioneers of our people in their
march westward, the vanguard of the army of fighting settlers, who with
axe and rifle won their way from the Alleghanies to the Rio Grande and
the Pacific.[2]

The Presbyterian Irish were themselves already a mixed people. Though
mainly descended from Scotch ancestors--who came originally from both
lowlands and highlands, from among both the Scotch Saxons and the Scotch
Celts,[3]--many of them were of English, a few of French Huguenot,[4]
and quite a number of true old Milesian Irish[5] extraction. They were
the Protestants of the Protestants; they detested and despised the
Catholics, whom their ancestors had conquered, and regarded the
Episcopalians by whom they themselves had been oppressed, with a more
sullen, but scarcely less intense, hatred.[6] They were a truculent and
obstinate people, and gloried in the warlike renown of their
forefathers, the men who had followed Cromwell, and who had shared in
the defence of Derry and in the victories of the Boyne and Aughrim.[7]

They did not begin to come to America in any numbers till after the
opening of the eighteenth century; by 1730 they were fairly swarming
across the ocean, for the most part in two streams, the larger going to
the port of Philadelphia, the smaller to the port of Charleston.[8]
Pushing through the long settled lowlands of the seacoast, they at once
made their abode at the foot of the mountains, and became the outposts
of civilization. From Pennsylvania, whither the great majority had come,
they drifted south along the foothills, and down the long valleys, till
they met their brethren from Charleston who had pushed up into the
Carolina back-country. In this land of hills, covered by unbroken
forest, they took root and flourished, stretching in a broad belt from
north to south, a shield of sinewy men thrust in between the people of
the seaboard and the red warriors of the wilderness. All through this
region they were alike; they had as little kinship with the Cavalier as
with the Quaker; the west was won by those who have been rightly called
the Roundheads of the south, the same men who, before any others,
declared for American independence.[9]

The two facts of most importance to remember in dealing with our pioneer
history are, first, that the western portions of Virginia and the
Carolinas were peopled by an entirely different stock from that which
had long existed in the tide-water regions of those colonies; and,
secondly, that, except for those in the Carolinas who came from
Charleston, the immigrants of this stock were mostly from the north,
from their great breeding-ground and nursery in western

That these Irish Presbyterians were a bold and hardy race is proved by
their at once pushing past the settled regions, and plunging into the
wilderness as the leaders of the white advance. They were the first and
last set of immigrants to do this; all others have merely followed in
the wake of their predecessors. But, indeed, they were fitted to be
Americans from the very start; they were kinsfolk of the Covenanters;
they deemed it a religious duty to interpret their own Bible, and held
for a divine right the election of their own clergy. For generations
their whole ecclesiastic and scholastic systems had been fundamentally
democratic. In the hard life of the frontier they lost much of their
religion, and they had but scant opportunity to give their children the
schooling in which they believed; but what few meeting-houses and
school-houses there were on the border were theirs.[11] The numerous
families of colonial English who came among them adopted their religion
if they adopted any. The creed of the backwoodsman who had a creed at
all was Presbyterianism; for the Episcopacy of the tide-water lands
obtained no foothold in the mountains, and the Methodists and Baptists
had but just begun to appear in the west when the Revolution broke

These Presbyterian Irish were, however, far from being the only settlers
on the border, although more than any others they impressed the stamp of
their peculiar character on the pioneer civilization of the west and
southwest. Great numbers of immigrants of English descent came among
them from the settled districts on the east; and though these later
arrivals soon became indistinguishable from the people among whom they
settled, yet they certainly sometimes added a tone of their own to
backwoods society, giving it here and there a slight dash of what we are
accustomed to consider the distinctively southern or cavalier
spirit.[13] There was likewise a large German admixture, not only from
the Germans of Pennsylvania, but also from those of the Carolinas.[14] A
good many Huguenots likewise came,[15] and a few Hollanders[16] and even
Swedes,[17] from the banks of the Delaware, or perhaps from farther off

A single generation, passed under the hard conditions of life in the
wilderness, was enough to weld together into one people the
representatives of these numerous and widely different races; and the
children of the next generation became indistinguishable from one
another. Long before the first Continental Congress assembled, the
backwoodsmen, whatever their blood, had become Americans, one in speech,
thought, and character, clutching firmly the land in which their fathers
and grandfathers had lived before them. They had lost all remembrance of
Europe and all sympathy with things European; they had become as
emphatically products native to the soil as were the tough and supple
hickories out of which they fashioned the handles of their long, light
axes. Their grim, harsh, narrow lives were yet strangely fascinating and
full of adventurous toil and danger; none but natures as strong, as
freedom-loving, and as full of bold defiance as theirs could have
endured existence on the terms which these men found pleasurable. Their
iron surroundings made a mould which turned out all alike in the same
shape. They resembled one another, and they differed from the rest of
the world--even the world of America, and infinitely more the world of
Europe--in dress, in customs, and in mode of life.

Where their lands abutted on the more settled districts to the eastward,
the population was of course thickest, and their peculiarities least.
Here and there at such points they built small backwoods burgs or towns,
rude, straggling, unkempt villages, with a store or two, a
tavern,--sometimes good, often a "scandalous hog-sty," where travellers
were devoured by fleas, and every one slept and ate in one room,[18]--a
small log school-house, and a little church, presided over by a
hard-featured Presbyterian preacher, gloomy, earnest, and zealous,
probably bigoted and narrow-minded, but nevertheless a great power for
good in the community.[19]

However, the backwoodsmen as a class neither built towns nor loved to
dwell therein. They were to be seen at their best in the vast,
interminable forests that formed their chosen home. They won and kept
their lands by force, and ever lived either at war or in dread of war.
Hence they settled always in groups of several families each, all banded
together for mutual protection. Their red foes were strong and terrible,
cunning in council, dreadful in battle, merciless beyond belief in
victory. The men of the border did not overcome and dispossess cowards
and weaklings; they marched forth to spoil the stout-hearted and to take
for a prey the possessions of the men of might. Every acre, every rood
of ground which they claimed had to be cleared by the axe and held with
the rifle. Not only was the chopping down of the forest the first
preliminary to cultivation, but it was also the surest means of subduing
the Indians, to whom the unending stretches of choked woodland were an
impenetrable cover behind which to move unseen, a shield in making
assaults, and a strong tower of defence in repelling counter-attacks. In
the conquest of the west the backwoods axe, shapely, well-poised, with
long haft and light head, was a servant hardly standing second even to
the rifle; the two were the national weapons of the American
backwoodsman, and in their use he has never been excelled.

When a group of families moved out into the wilderness they built
themselves a station or stockade fort; a square palisade of upright
logs, loop-holed, with strong blockhouses as bastions at the corners.
One side at least was generally formed by the backs of the cabins
themselves, all standing in a row; and there was a great door or gate,
that could be strongly barred in case of need. Often no iron whatever
was employed in any of the buildings. The square inside contained the
provision sheds and frequently a strong central blockhouse as well.
These forts, of course, could not stand against cannon, and they were
always in danger when attacked with fire; but save for this risk of
burning they were very effectual defences against men without artillery,
and were rarely taken, whether by whites or Indians, except by surprise.
Few other buildings have played so important a part in our history as
the rough stockade fort of the backwoods.

The families only lived in the fort when there was war with the Indians,
and even then not in the winter. At other times they all separated out
to their own farms, universally called clearings, as they were always
made by first cutting off the timber. The stumps were left to dot the
fields of grain and Indian corn. The corn in especial was the stand-by
and invariable resource of the western settler; it was the crop on which
he relied to feed his family, and when hunting or on a war trail the
parched grains were carried in his leather wallet to serve often as his
only food. But he planted orchards and raised melons, potatoes, and many
other fruits and vegetables as well; and he had usually a horse or two,
cows, and perhaps hogs and sheep, if the wolves and bears did not
interfere. If he was poor his cabin was made of unhewn logs, and held
but a single room; if well-to-do, the logs were neatly hewed, and
besides the large living- and eating-room with its huge stone fireplace,
there was also a small bedroom and a kitchen, while a ladder led to the
loft above, in which the boys slept. The floor was made of puncheons,
great slabs of wood hewed carefully out, and the roof of clapboards.
Pegs of wood were thrust into the sides of the house, to serve instead
of a wardrobe; and buck antlers, thrust into joists, held the ever-ready
rifles. The table was a great clapboard set on four wooden legs; there
were three-legged stools, and in the better sort of houses old-fashioned
rocking-chairs.[20] The couch or bed was warmly covered with blankets,
bear-skins, and deer-hides.[21]

These clearings lay far apart from one another in the wilderness. Up to
the door-sills of the log-huts stretched the solemn and mysterious
forest. There were no openings to break its continuity; nothing but
endless leagues on leagues of shadowy, wolf-haunted woodland. The great
trees towered aloft till their separate heads were lost in the mass of
foliage above, and the rank underbrush choked the spaces between the
trunks. On the higher peaks and ridge-crests of the mountains there were
straggling birches and pines, hemlocks and balsam firs;[22] elsewhere,
oaks, chestnuts, hickories, maples, beeches, walnuts, and great tulip
trees grew side by side with many other kinds. The sunlight could not
penetrate the roofed archway of murmuring leaves; through the gray
aisles of the forest men walked always in a kind of mid-day gloaming.
Those who had lived in the open plains felt when they came to the
backwoods as if their heads were hooded. Save on the border of a lake,
from a cliff top, or on a bald knob--that is, a bare hill-shoulder,--they
could not anywhere look out for any distance.

All the land was shrouded in one vast forest. It covered the mountains
from crest to river-bed, filled the plains, and stretched in sombre and
melancholy wastes towards the Mississippi. All that it contained, all
that lay hid within it and beyond it, none could tell; men only knew
that their boldest hunters, however deeply they had penetrated, had not
yet gone through it, that it was the home of the game they followed and
the wild beasts that preyed on their flocks, and that deep in its
tangled depths lurked their red foes, hawk-eyed and wolf-hearted.

Backwoods society was simple, and the duties and rights of each member
of the family were plain and clear. The man was the armed protector and
provider, the bread-winner; the woman was the housewife and
child-bearer. They married young and their families were large, for they
were strong and healthy, and their success in life depended on their own
stout arms and willing hearts. There was everywhere great equality of
conditions. Land was plenty and all else scarce; so courage, thrift, and
industry were sure of their reward. All had small farms, with the few
stock necessary to cultivate them; the farms being generally placed in
the hollows, the division lines between them, if they were close
together, being the tops of the ridges and the watercourses, especially
the former. The buildings of each farm were usually at its lowest point,
as if in the centre of an amphitheatre.[23] Each was on an average of
about 400 acres,[24] but sometimes more.[25] Tracts of low, swampy
grounds, possibly some miles from the cabin, were cleared for meadows,
the fodder being stacked, and hauled home in winter.

Each backwoodsman was not only a small farmer but also a hunter; for his
wife and children depended for their meat upon the venison and bear's
flesh procured by his rifle. The people were restless and always on the
move. After being a little while in a place, some of the men would
settle down permanently, while others would again drift off, farming and
hunting alternately to support their families.[26] The backwoodsman's
dress was in great part borrowed from his Indian foes. He wore a fur cap
or felt hat, moccasins, and either loose, thin trousers, or else simply
leggings of buckskin or elk-hide, and the Indian breech-clout. He was
always clad in the fringed hunting-shirt, of homespun or buckskin, the
most picturesque and distinctively national dress ever worn in America.
It was a loose smock or tunic, reaching nearly to the knees, and held in
at the waist by a broad belt, from which hung the tomahawk and
scalping-knife.[27] His weapon was the long, small-bore, flint-lock
rifle, clumsy, and ill-balanced, but exceedingly accurate. It was very
heavy, and when upright, reached to the chin of a tall man; for the
barrel of thick, soft iron, was four feet in length, while the stock was
short, and the butt scooped out. Sometimes it was plain, sometimes
ornamented. It was generally bored out--or, as the expression then was,
"sawed out"--to carry a ball of seventy, more rarely of thirty or forty,
to the pound; and was usually of backwoods manufacture.[28] The marksman
almost always fired from a rest, and rarely at a very long range; and
the shooting was marvellously accurate.[29]

In the backwoods there was very little money; barter was the common form
of exchange, and peltries were often used as a circulating medium, a
beaver, otter, fisher, dressed buckskin or large bearskin being reckoned
as equal to two foxes or wildcats, four coons, or eight minks.[30] A
young man inherited nothing from his father but his strong frame and
eager heart; but before him lay a whole continent wherein to pitch his
farm, and he felt ready to marry as soon as he became of age, even
though he had nothing but his clothes, his horses, his axe, and his
rifle.[31] If a girl was well off, and had been careful and industrious,
she might herself bring a dowry, of a cow and a calf, a brood mare, a
bed well stocked with blankets, and a chest containing her
clothes[32]--the latter not very elaborate, for a woman's dress
consisted of a hat or poke bonnet, a "bed gown," perhaps a jacket, and a
linsey petticoat, while her feet were thrust into coarse shoepacks or
moccasins. Fine clothes were rare; a suit of such cost more than 200
acres of good land.[33]

The first lesson the backwoodsmen learnt was the necessity of self-help;
the next, that such a community could only thrive if all joined in
helping one another. Log-rollings, house-raisings, house-warmings,
corn-shuckings, quiltings, and the like were occasions when all the
neighbors came together to do what the family itself could hardly
accomplish alone. Every such meeting was the occasion of a frolic and
dance for the young people, whisky and rum being plentiful, and the host
exerting his utmost power to spread the table with backwoods
delicacies--bear-meat and venison, vegetables from the "truck patch,"
where squashes, melons, beans, and the like were grown, wild fruits,
bowls of milk, and apple pies, which were the acknowledged standard of
luxury. At the better houses there was metheglin or small beer, cider,
cheese, and biscuits.[34] Tea was so little known that many of the
backwoods people were not aware it was a beverage and at first attempted
to eat the leaves with salt or butter.[35]

The young men prided themselves on their bodily strength, and were
always eager to contend against one another in athletic games, such as
wrestling, racing, jumping, and lifting flour-barrels; and they also
sought distinction in vieing with one another at their work. Sometimes
they strove against one another singly, sometimes they divided into
parties, each bending all its energies to be first in shucking a given
heap of corn or cutting (with sickles) an allotted patch of wheat. Among
the men the bravos or bullies often were dandies also in the backwoods
fashions, wearing their hair long and delighting in the rude finery of
hunting-shirts embroidered with porcupine quills; they were loud,
boastful, and profane, given to coarsely bantering one another. Brutally
savage fights were frequent; the combatants, who were surrounded by
rings of interested spectators, striking, kicking, biting, and gouging.
The fall of one of them did not stop the fight, for the man who was down
was maltreated without mercy until he called "enough." The victor always
bragged savagely of his prowess, often leaping on a stump, crowing and
flapping his arms. This last was a thoroughly American touch; but
otherwise one of these contests was less a boxing match than a kind of
backwoods _pankration,_ no less revolting than its ancient
prototype of Olympic fame. Yet, if the uncouth borderers were as brutal
as the highly polished Greeks, they were more manly; defeat was not
necessarily considered disgrace, a man often fighting when he was
certain to be beaten, while the onlookers neither hooted nor pelted the
conquered. We first hear of the noted scout and Indian fighter, Simon
Kenton, as leaving a rival for dead after one of these ferocious duels,
and fleeing from his home in terror of the punishment that might follow
the deed.[36] Such fights were specially frequent when the backwoodsmen
went into the little frontier towns to see horse races or fairs.

A wedding was always a time of festival. If there was a church anywhere
near, the bride rode thither on horseback behind her father, and after
the service her pillion was shifted to the bridegroom's steed.[37] If,
as generally happened, there was no church, the groom and his friends,
all armed, rode to the house of the bride's father, plenty of whisky
being drunk, and the men racing recklessly along the narrow
bridle-paths, for there were few roads or wheeled vehicles in the
backwoods. At the bride's house the ceremony was performed, and then a
huge dinner was eaten, after which the fiddling and dancing began, and
were continued all the afternoon, and most of the night as well. A party
of girls stole off the bride and put her to bed in the loft above; and a
party of young men then performed the like service for the groom. The
fun was hearty and coarse, and the toasts always included one to the
young couple, with the wish that they might have many big children; for
as long as they could remember the backwoodsmen had lived at war, while
looking ahead they saw no chance of its ever stopping, and so each son
was regarded as a future warrior, a help to the whole community.[38] The
neighbors all joined again in chopping and rolling the logs for the
young couple's future house, then in raising the house itself, and
finally in feasting and dancing at the house-warming.

Funerals were simple, the dead body being carried to the grave in a
coffin slung on poles and borne by four men.

There was not much schooling, and few boys or girls learnt much more
than reading, writing, and ciphering up to the rule of three.[39] Where
the school-houses existed they were only dark, mean log-huts, and if in
the southern colonies, were generally placed in the so-called "old
fields," or abandoned farms grown up with pines. The schoolmaster
boarded about with the families; his learning was rarely great, nor was
his discipline good, in spite of the frequency and severity of the
canings. The price for such tuition was at the rate of twenty shillings
a year, in Pennsylvania currency.[40]

Each family did every thing that could be done for itself. The father
and sons worked with axe, hoe, and sickle. Almost every house contained
a loom, and almost every woman was a weaver. Linsey-woolsey, made from
flax grown near the cabin, and of wool from the backs of the few sheep,
was the warmest and most substantial cloth; and when the flax crop
failed and the flocks were destroyed by wolves, the children had but
scanty covering to hide their nakedness. The man tanned the buckskin,
the woman was tailor and shoemaker, and made the deerskin sifters to be
used instead of bolting-cloths. There were a few pewter spoons in use;
but the table furniture consisted mainly of hand-made trenchers,
platters, noggins, and bowls. The cradle was of peeled hickory bark.[41]
Ploughshares had to be imported, but harrows and sleds were made without
difficulty; and the cooper work was well done. Chaff beds were thrown on
the floor of the loft, if the house-owner was well off. Each cabin had a
hand-mill and a hominy block; the last was borrowed from the Indians,
and was only a large block of wood, with a hole burned in the top, as a
mortar, where the pestle was worked. If there were any sugar maples
accessible, they were tapped every year.

But some articles, especially salt and iron, could not be produced in
the backwoods. In order to get them each family collected during the
year all the furs possible, these being valuable and yet easily carried
on pack-horses, the sole means of transport. Then, after seeding time,
in the fall, the people of a neighborhood ordinarily joined in sending
down a train of peltry-laden pack-horses to some large sea-coast or
tidal-river trading town, where their burdens were bartered for the
needed iron and salt. The unshod horses all had bells hung round their
neck; the clappers were stopped during the day, but when the train was
halted for the night, and the horses were hobbled and turned loose, the
bells were once more unstopped.[42] Several men accompanied each little
caravan, and sometimes they drove with them steers and hogs to sell on
the sea-coast. A bushel of alum salt was worth a good cow and calf, and
as each of the poorly fed, undersized pack animals could carry but two
bushels, the mountaineers prized it greatly, and instead of salting or
pickling their venison, they jerked it, by drying it in the sun or
smoking it over a fire.

The life of the backwoodsmen was one long struggle. The forest had to be
felled, droughts, deep snows, freshets, cloudbursts, forest fires, and
all the other dangers of a wilderness life faced. Swarms of deer-flies,
mosquitoes, and midges rendered life a torment in the weeks of hot
weather. Rattlesnakes and copperheads were very plentiful, and, the
former especially, constant sources of danger and death. Wolves and
bears were incessant and inveterate foes of the live stock, and the
cougar or panther occasionally attacked man as well.[43] More terrible
still, the wolves sometimes went mad, and the men who then encountered
them were almost certain to be bitten and to die of hydrophobia.[44]

Every true backwoodsman was a hunter. Wild turkeys were plentiful. The
pigeons at times filled the woods with clouds that hid the sun and broke
down the branches on their roosting grounds as if a whirlwind had
passed. The black and gray squirrels swarmed, devastating the
corn-fields, and at times gathering in immense companies and migrating
across mountain and river. The hunter's ordinary game was the deer, and
after that the bear; the elk was already growing uncommon. No form of
labor is harder than the chase, and none is so fascinating nor so
excellent as a training-school for war. The successful still-hunter of
necessity possessed skill in hiding and in creeping noiselessly upon the
wary quarry, as well as in imitating the notes and calls of the
different beasts and birds; skill in the use of the rifle and in
throwing the tomahawk he already had; and he perforce acquired keenness
of eye, thorough acquaintance with woodcraft, and the power of standing
the severest strains of fatigue, hardship and exposure. He lived out in
the woods for many months with no food but meat, and no shelter
whatever, unless he made a lean-to of brush or crawled into a hollow

Such training stood the frontier folk in good stead when they were
pitted against the Indians; without it they could not even have held
their own, and the white advance would have been absolutely checked. Our
frontiers were pushed westward by the warlike skill and adventurous
personal prowess of the individual settlers; regular armies by
themselves could have done little. For one square mile the regular
armies added to our domain, the settlers added ten,--a hundred would
probably be nearer the truth. A race of peaceful, unwarlike farmers
would have been helpless before such foes as the red Indians, and no
auxiliary military force could have protected them or enabled them to
move westward. Colonists fresh from the old world, no matter how
thrifty, steady-going, and industrious, could not hold their own on the
frontier; they had to settle where they were protected from the Indians
by a living barrier of bold and self-reliant American borderers.[45] The
west would never have been settled save for the fierce courage and the
eager desire to brave danger so characteristic of the stalwart

These armed hunters, woodchoppers, and farmers were their own soldiers.
They built and manned their own forts; they did their own fighting under
their own commanders. There were no regiments of regular troops along
the frontier.[46] In the event of an Indian inroad each borderer had to
defend himself until there was time for them all to gather together to
repel or avenge it. Every man was accustomed to the use of arms from his
childhood; when a boy was twelve years old he was given a rifle and made
a fort-soldier, with a loophole where he was to stand if the station was
attacked. The war was never-ending, for even the times of so-called
peace were broken by forays and murders; a man might grow from babyhood
to middle age on the border, and yet never remember a year in which some
one of his neighbors did not fall a victim to the Indians.

There was everywhere a rude military organization, which included all
the able-bodied men of the community. Every settlement had its colonels
and captains; but these officers, both in their training and in the
authority they exercised, corresponded much more nearly to Indian chiefs
than to the regular army men whose titles they bore. They had no means
whatever of enforcing their orders, and their tumultuous and disorderly
levies of sinewy riflemen were hardly as well disciplined as the Indians
themselves.[47] The superior officer could advise, entreat, lead, and
influence his men, but he could not command them, or, if he did, the men
obeyed him only just so far as it suited them. If an officer planned a
scout or campaign, those who thought proper accompanied him, and the
others stayed at home, and even those who went out came back if the fit
seized them, or perchance followed the lead of an insubordinate junior
officer whom they liked better than they did his superior.[48] There was
no compulsion to perform military duties beyond dread of being disgraced
in the eyes of the neighbors, and there was no pecuniary reward for
performing them; nevertheless the moral sentiment of a backwoods
community was too robust to tolerate habitual remissness in military
affairs, and the coward and laggard were treated with utter scorn, and
were generally in the end either laughed out, or "hated out," of the
neighborhood, or else got rid of in a still more summary manner. Among a
people naturally brave and reckless, this public opinion acted fairly
effectively, and there was generally but little shrinking from military

A backwoods levy was formidable because of the high average courage and
prowess of the individuals composing it; it was on its own ground much
more effective than a like force of regular soldiers, but of course it
could not be trusted on a long campaign. The backwoodsmen used their
rifles better than the Indians, and also stood punishment better, but
they never matched them in surprises nor in skill in taking advantage of
cover, and very rarely equalled their discipline in the battle itself.
After all, the pioneer was primarily a husbandman; the time spent in
chopping trees and tilling the soil his foe spent in preparing for or
practising forest warfare, and so the former, thanks to the exercise of
the very qualities which in the end gave him the possession of the soil,
could not, as a rule, hope to rival his antagonist in the actual
conflict itself. When large bodies of the red men and white borderers
were pitted against each other, the former were if any thing the more
likely to have the advantage.[50] But the whites soon copied from the
Indians their system of individual and private warfare, and they
probably caused their foes far more damage and loss in this way than in
the large expeditions. Many noted border scouts and Indian
fighters--such men as Boon, Kenton, Wetzel, Brady, McCulloch,
Mansker[51]--grew to overmatch their Indian foes at their own game, and
held themselves above the most renowned warriors. But these men carried
the spirit of defiant self-reliance to such an extreme that their best
work was always done when they were alone or in small parties of but
four or five. They made long forays after scalps and horses, going a
wonderful distance, enduring extreme hardship, risking the most terrible
of deaths, and harrying the hostile tribes into a madness of terror and
revengeful hatred.

As it was in military matters, so it was with the administration of
justice by the frontiersmen; they had few courts, and knew but little
law, and yet they contrived to preserve order and morality with rough
effectiveness, by combining to frown down on the grosser misdeeds, and
to punish the more flagrant misdoers. Perhaps the spirit in which they
acted can be best shown by the recital of an incident in the career of
the three McAfee brothers, who were among the pioneer hunters of
Kentucky.[52] Previous to trying to move their families out to the new
country, they made a cache of clothing, implements, and provisions,
which in their absence was broken into and plundered. They caught the
thief, "a little diminutive, red-headed white man," a runaway convict
servant from one of the tide-water counties of Virginia. In the first
impulse of anger at finding that he was the criminal, one of the McAfees
rushed at him to kill him with his tomahawk; but the weapon turned, the
man was only knocked down, and his assailant's gusty anger subsided as
quickly as it had risen, giving way to a desire to do stern but fair
justice. So the three captors formed themselves into a court, examined
into the case, heard the man in his own defence, and after due
consultation decided that "according to their opinion of the laws he had
forfeited his life, and ought to be hung"; but none of them were willing
to execute the sentence in cold blood, and they ended by taking their
prisoner back to his master.

The incident was characteristic in more than one way. The prompt desire
of the backwoodsman to avenge his own wrong; his momentary furious
anger, speedily quelled and replaced by a dogged determination to be
fair but to exact full retribution; the acting entirely without regard
to legal forms or legal officials, but yet in a spirit which spoke well
for the doer's determination to uphold the essentials that make honest
men law-abiding; together with the good faith of the whole proceeding,
and the amusing ignorance that it would have been in the least unlawful
to execute their own rather harsh sentence--all these were typical
frontier traits. Some of the same traits appear in the treatment
commonly adopted in the backwoods to meet the case--of painfully
frequent occurrence in the times of Indian wars--where a man taken
prisoner by the savages, and supposed to be murdered, returned after two
or three years' captivity, only to find his wife married again. In the
wilderness a husband was almost a necessity to a woman; her surroundings
made the loss of the protector and provider an appalling calamity; and
the widow, no matter how sincere her sorrow, soon remarried--for there
were many suitors where women were not over-plenty. If in such a case
the one thought dead returned, the neighbors and the parties interested
seem frequently to have held a sort of informal court, and to have
decided that the woman should choose either of the two men she wished to
be her husband, the other being pledged to submit to the decision and
leave the settlement. Evidently no one had the least idea that there was
any legal irregularity in such proceedings.[53]

The McAfees themselves and the escaped convict servant whom they
captured typify the two prominent classes of the backwoods people. The
frontier, in spite of the outward uniformity of means and manners, is
preeminently the place of sharp contrasts. The two extremes of society,
the strongest, best, and most adventurous, and the weakest, most
shiftless, and vicious, are those which seem naturally to drift to the
border. Most of the men who came to the backwoods to hew out homes and
rear families were stern, manly, and honest; but there was also a large
influx of people drawn from the worst immigrants that perhaps ever were
brought to America--the mass of convict servants, redemptioners, and the
like, who formed such an excessively undesirable substratum to the
otherwise excellent population of the tide-water regions in Virginia and
the Carolinas.[54] Many of the southern crackers or poor whites spring
from this class, which also in the backwoods gave birth to generations
of violent and hardened criminals, and to an even greater number of
shiftless, lazy, cowardly cumberers of the earth's surface. They had in
many places a permanently bad effect upon the tone of the whole

Moreover, the influence of heredity was no more plainly perceptible than
was the extent of individual variation. If a member of a bad family
wished to reform, he had every opportunity to do so; if a member of a
good family had vicious propensities, there was nothing to check them.
All qualities, good and bad, are intensified and accentuated in the life
of the wilderness. The man who in civilization is merely sullen and
bad-tempered becomes a murderous, treacherous ruffian when transplanted
to the wilds; while, on the other hand, his cheery, quiet neighbor
develops into a hero, ready uncomplainingly to lay down his life for his
friend. One who in an eastern city is merely a backbiter and slanderer,
in the western woods lies in wait for his foe with a rifle; sharp
practice in the east becomes highway robbery in the west; but at the
same time negative good-nature becomes active self-sacrifice, and a
general belief in virtue is translated into a prompt and determined war
upon vice. The ne'er-do-well of a family who in one place has his debts
paid a couple of times and is then forced to resign from his clubs and
lead a cloudy but innocuous existence on a small pension, in the other
abruptly finishes his career by being hung for horse-stealing.

In the backwoods the lawless led lives of abandoned wickedness; they
hated good for good's sake, and did their utmost to destroy it. Where
the bad element was large, gangs of horse thieves, highwaymen, and other
criminals often united with the uncontrollable young men of vicious
tastes who were given to gambling, fighting, and the like. They then
formed half-secret organizations, often of great extent and with wide
ramifications; and if they could control a community they established a
reign of terror, driving out both ministers and magistrates, and killing
without scruple those who interfered with them. The good men in such a
case banded themselves together as regulators and put down the wicked
with ruthless severity, by the exercise of lynch law, shooting and
hanging the worst off-hand.[55]

Jails were scarce in the wilderness, and often were entirely wanting in
a district, which, indeed, was quite likely to lack legal officers also.
If punishment was inflicted at all it was apt to be severe, and took the
form of death or whipping. An impromptu jury of neighbors decided with a
rough and ready sense of fair play and justice what punishment the crime
demanded, and then saw to the execution of their own decree. Whipping
was the usual reward of theft. Occasionally torture was resorted to, but
not often; and to their honor be it said, the backwoodsmen were
horrified at the treatment accorded both to black slaves and to white
convict servants in the lowlands.[56]

They were superstitious, of course, believing in witchcraft, and signs
and omens; and it may be noted that their superstition showed a singular
mixture of old-world survivals and of practices borrowed from the
savages or evolved by the very force of their strange surroundings. At
the bottom they were deeply religious in their tendencies; and although
ministers and meeting-houses were rare, yet the backwoods cabins often
contained Bibles, and the mothers used to instil into the minds of their
children reverence for Sunday,[57] while many even of the hunters
refused to hunt on that day.[58] Those of them who knew the right
honestly tried to live up to it, in spite of the manifold temptations to
backsliding offered by their lives of hard and fierce contention.[59]
But Calvinism, though more congenial to them than Episcopacy, and
infinitely more so than Catholicism, was too cold for the fiery hearts
of the borderers; they were not stirred to the depths of their natures
till other creeds, and, above all, Methodism, worked their way to the

Thus the backwoodsmen lived on the clearings they had hewed out of the
everlasting forest; a grim, stern people, strong and simple, powerful
for good and evil, swayed by gusts of stormy passion, the love of
freedom rooted in their very hearts' core. Their lives were harsh and
narrow; they gained their bread by their blood and sweat, in the
unending struggle with the wild ruggedness of nature. They suffered
terrible injuries at the hands of the red men, and on their foes they
waged a terrible warfare in return. They were relentless, revengeful,
suspicious, knowing neither ruth nor pity; they were also upright,
resolute, and fearless, loyal to their friends, and devoted to their
country. In spite of their many failings, they were of all men the best
fitted to conquer the wilderness and hold it against all comers.

1. Georgia was then too weak and small to contribute much to the
backwoods stock; her frontier was still in the low country.

2. Among the dozen or so most prominent backwoods pioneers of the west
and southwest, the men who were the leaders in exploring and settling
the lands, and in fighting the Indians, British, and Mexicans, the
Presbyterian Irish stock furnished Andrew Jackson, Samuel Houston, David
Crockett, James Robertson; Lewis, the leader of the backwoods hosts in
their first great victory over the northwestern Indians; and Campbell,
their commander in their first great victory over the British. The other
pioneers who stand beside the above were such men as Sevier, a
Shenandoah Huguenot; Shelby, of Welsh blood; and Boon and Clark, both of
English stock, the former from Pennsylvania, the latter from Virginia.

3. Of course, generations before they ever came to America, the McAfees,
McClungs, Campbells, McCoshes, etc., had become indistinguishable from
the Todds, Armstrongs, Elliotts, and the like.

4. A notable instance being that of the Lewis family, of Great Kanawha

5. The Blount MSS. contain many muster-rolls and pay-rolls of the
frontier forces of North Carolina during the year 1788. In these, and in
the lists of names of settlers preserved in the Am. State Papers, Public
Lands, II., etc., we find numerous names such as Shea, Drennan, O'Neil,
O'Brien, Mahoney, Sullivan, O'Connell, Maguire, O'Donohue,--in fact
hardly a single Irish name is unrepresented. Of course, many of these
were the descendants of imported Irish bondservants; but many also were
free immigrants, belonging to the Presbyterian congregations, and
sometimes appearing as pastors thereof. For the numerous Irish names of
prominent pioneers (such as Donelly, Hogan, etc.) see McClung's "Western
Adventures" (Louisville, 1879), 52, 167, 207, 308, etc.; also DeHaas,
236, 289, etc.; Doddridge, 16, 288, 301, etc., etc.

6. "Sketches of North Carolina," William Henry Foote, New York, 1846. An
excellent book, written after much research.

7. For a few among many instances: Houston (see Lane's "Life of
Houston") had ancestors at Derry and Aughrim; the McAfees (see McAfee
MSS.) and Irvine, one of the commanders on Crawford's expedition, were
descendants of men who fought at the Boyne ("Crawford's Campaign," G. W.
Butterfield, Cincinnati, 1873, p. 26); so with Lewis, Campbell, etc.

8. Foote, 78.

9. Witness the Mecklenburg Declaration.

10. McAfee MSS. "Trans-Alleghany Pioneers" (John P. Hale), 17. Foote,
188. See also _Columbian Magazine_, I., 122, and Schopf, 406. Boon,
Crockett, Houston, Campbell, Lewis, were among the southwestern pioneers
whose families originally came from Pennsylvania. See "Annals of Augusta
County, Va.," by Joseph A. Waddell, Richmond, 1888 (an excellent book),
pp. 4, 276, 279, for a clear showing of the Presbyterian Irish origin of
the West Virginians, and of the large German admixture.

11. The Irish schoolmaster was everywhere a feature of early western

12. McAfee MSS. MS. Autobiography of Rev. Wm. Hickman, born in Virginia
in 1747 (in Col. R. T. Durrett's library). "Trans-Alleghany Pioneers,"
147. "History of Kentucky Baptists," J. H. Spencer (Cincinnati, 1885)

13. Boon, though of English descent, had no Virginia blood in his veins;
he was an exact type of the regular backwoodsman; but in Clark, and
still more in Blount, we see strong traces of the "cavalier spirit." Of
course, the Cavaliers no more formed the bulk of the Virginia people
than they did of Rupert's armies; but the squires and yeomen who went to
make up the mass took their tone from their leaders.

14. Many of the most noted hunters and Indian fighters were of German
origin, (see "Early Times in Middle Tennessee," John Carr, Nashville,
1859, pp. 54 and 56, for Steiner and Mansker--or Stoner and Mansco.)
Such were the Wetzels, famous in border annals, who lived near Wheeling;
Michael Steiner, the Steiners being the forefathers of many of the

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest